Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey into Manhood and Back Again by Norah Vincent

            Journalist Norah Vincent has written a stunning and insightful book that explores issues such as gender, masculinity and sexual identity.  By going “undercover” as a man for 1 ½ years, Self_made_man Norah (or “Ned” as her alter-ego is called) was able to maneuver freely in a secret world to which most women are not privy, a world in which she had uncensored access to men’s thoughts, fears and secret rituals.  The book is not at all sensationalistic; that is, Vincent does not resort to the tired clichés or reality-TV “shock” tactics that often accompany “cross dressing” experiments.  Nor did she set out to validate preconceived notions or make political statements.  Rather, the author embarked upon the endeavor with an open mind that allowed her to be both pleasantly surprised and unpleasantly appalled by the things she observed.

            Each chapter sheds light on a different masculine “world.”  “Ned” joins an all-male, blue-collar bowling league, visits strip clubs, goes on blind dates with women, spends time in a monastery, works as a salesman, and attends a Robert Bly-inspired “men’s movement” weekend in the woods.  The author ruminates on everything from the manner in which men shake hands (“Our palms met with a soft pop, and I squeezed assertively the way I’d seen men do at parties when they gathered in someone’s living room to watch a football game. . .There was something so warm and bonded in this handshake.  Receiving it was a rush, an instant inclusion in a camaraderie that felt very old and practiced.”) to the ways in which the women she “dates” as Ned think of themselves as “emotional masters of the universe” while discounting men as “unfeeling.”

            Norah Vincent is a likable narrator whose prose is sharp and witty.  Self-Made Man would make a terrific book discussion group selection, and I highly recommend it to any man or woman who has ever found him or herself puzzled or disturbed by the antics of the opposite sex.      

(Karen Favreau, Hemphill Branch)                                                                                                                             

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